Saturday, 30 May 2015

Belfast Bikes - The First Month

It doesn't seem a month since the local cycling twitterati rocked up to the Belfast Bikes launch at the city hall to get a free T-shirt and a fee 2 hour jaunt on the new bikes. In what must be a huge disappointment to he usual naysayers, whose sole purpose in life seems to be to make negative comments on the websites of the local media, the scheme seems to be be a runaway success.

Despite a few teething troubles, eagerly swooped upon by the aforementioned media and a docking station vandalised by the local pond life, Belfast Bikes have rapidly became an everyday sight on the city streets and "grabbing a bike" is a phrase that has entered the local dictionary. I would be a typical user, and in the first month I have racked up some 60 odd rentals and showing the ignorance of armchair critics in respect of all things cycling, I still ride my own bike to work.

So why ride your own bike, but use a rental bike during the day? Simple, you can drop the bike off at a docking station and forget about it, it's not your problem, you don't worry about leaving your own bike to the mercies of Joe Public, you can relax and get on with things. Secondly, the bikes are rather nice to ride round town, they're no lightweights, but not as heavy as the Boris bikes, 3 speed hub gears are more than adequate with the added bonus of being able to shift to a lower gear whilst stopped. Reliability has been generally good, with a fleet of over 300 bikes, you will inevitably get a few rough diamonds, especially when ridden by the general public and left outdoors in a town centre. Worryingly, one bike was clanking horribly at the launch event, and I've ridden a couple that were decidedly rough. Biggest bugbear is off centre handlebars and saddles pointing at the sky, but since it's not your bike, you can put up with it, or just select one that pleases you.

In some cases, demand at certain stations, like May's Meadow and Bradbury Place, has outstripped supply, likewise other stations have been full, leaving you to chain your bike up to various street furniture, luckily the app seems to inform HQ of this so you don't get hit with the £120 charge for a missing bike.

But the main problem will always be reliability, since I first started writing this piece, the saddles in the sky problem has increased remarkably, yesterday for example, an entire station's worth of bikes had saddles that were pointing at least 5 degrees nose up, in essence they were unridable. I hired the one nearest to the camera, rode it 15 feet, then realised it was literally painful to ride so returned it.

It would be easy to write this off as vandalism, but there was no way the saddles could have been moved, I'm quite strong and I couldn't shift one back to horizontal, so they must have been set up in this fashion. Also the bike I hired from the next station had very soft tyres. Maybe this sounds harsh, but a lot of potential customers will judge the whole cycling experience by these bikes, making them as pleasant to ride a possible should be one of their key goals.

In short, a good first month, but their eye must not come off the ball regards maintenance. Hopefully the scheme will expand and grow like Japanese Knotweed on the Greenway!

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